Thursday, December 07, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: Late Date

Best Of Thriller: LATE DATE

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!

Season: 1, Episode: 27.
Airdate: April 4, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Donald Sanford based on the story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW)
Cast: Larry Pennell, Ed Platt, Jody Fair.
Music: Great Jerry Goldsmith score.
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Put yourselves in young Larry Weeks’s shoes my friends. You’ve just come home from a carefree day at the beach. Mind and body exhilerated by the sun and water. And what awaits? The tragic evidence of murder. Now ask yourself: What would you do next? Remembering always that the one person you love most in all this world, your own brother, was the killer. Would you phone for the police? Would you run from this terrible scene? Or would you have the courage to do what Larry Weeks will do? But before you answer, let me introduce the people who you will meet in tonight’s excursion with a corpse. Mr. Larry Pennell, Mr. Edward Platt, and Miss Jody Fair. Now for those of you who are still undecided let us see exactly how young Larry did handle this grim problem.”

Synopsis: Summertime, and everyone is at the beach. Mid 30s Larry Weeks (Larry Pennell) walks back to his suburban home, expecting to find it empty... but his middle aged brother Jim (Ed Platt from GET SMART) is back a day early... and looks like hell. It’s Thursday, and Jim works in the city during the week, staying at an apartment there, and only comes home on Friday for the weekend. When Larry asks if Jim’s wife Doris is upstairs, Jim mysteriously answers yes, but don’t go up there. Larry climbs the stairs to the bedroom to find Doris dead on the bed... neck broken.

Jim says he discovered she had been cheating on him, and just snapped... as did her neck. Larry says she began cheating a week after they were married, met a guy named Syd in a beer joint and with Jim away all week...

When Jim wants to go to the police, Larry talks him out of it. And by accident, Jim has caught a break: he forgot his train punch card and had to buy a ticket at the station, round trip, so he could go back in the morning. No one on the Thursday train recognized him, because he always comes home on Friday. Larry convinced Jim to sneak back to the station, take the next train to the city, and hang out with friends the way he usually would on a Thursday... to create an alibi. Then, using his punch card when he comes back on Friday, make sure that people *do* remember him on the train. Meanwhile, Larry will deal with the corpse.

But before Jim can leave, his daughter Helen (Jody Fair) returns from the beach. Larry tries to get rid of her by saying her boyfriend Gordon went to the beach to pick her up, but Helen says she’s already talked to Gordon... they’re going to the movies tonight and she can’t very well go in her bathing suit. She slips past Larry into the house. Will she discover Jim and ruin the plan? Helen takes off her wrap and is headed for the hall closet when Larry spots a coat tail hanging out of the closet door... is this where Jim is hiding? Larry tries to take her wrap for her, but she refuses. Opens the closet door: nobody there. Then she asks Larry if Doris is home. Larry says no, and Helen says: great, I can break into her room and use her make up and perfume. That’s where the corpse is!

Larry heads her off at the door to Doris’ room, makes sure it’s locked. While Larry and Helen are talking upstairs, Jim sneaks out downstairs. Helen goes into her bedroom, then sticks her head out and says to Larry: Doris probably didn’t lock the door to the shared bathroom, so Helen can still get in and use her make up and perfume. When Helen ducks back into her room, Larry scrambles to unlock the door to Doris’ room, slip inside, and then tries to close and lock the connecting bathroom door before Helen can try the door... but Helen goes into the bathroom first, turns on the light. Larry hides next to the door, unseen... but Doris’s corpse is in plain view sprawled on the bed!

That’s when the doorbell rings. Helen yells for Larry to answer it, it’s probably Gordon. But Larry can’t move or make a sound without being discovered. When Gordon keeps ringing the doorbell, Helen goes out to the hall (next to the door to Doris’ room) and yells down that it’s open, and Gordon enters. While Helen is on the other side of that door, Larry grabs Doris’ corpse and tries to hide it in the bedroom closet, but the door is locked. Helen goes back into the bathroom, and Gordon yells from downstairs to put on some of that expensive perfume that Doris uses... and Helen enters Doris’ bedroom!

Larry and the corpse hide behind the bed as Helen puts on make up and perfume, then steps back from the full length mirror to check herself out... almost stepping on Dead Doris’ foot! The phone rings. When Doris leaves the room, Larry sneaks out into the hall and says he’s got it, answers the phone downstairs... it’s Doris’ boyfriend Syd! Wants to know if she’s home. He says she’s out, call back later. Helen and Gordon leave for the night.

That night: Larry goes out to the car, pops the trunk, pulls out everything and puts it in the garage... including the spare tire. Doesn’t notice the nosey next door neighbor woman sitting on her porch, watching him. Back in the house, the phone rings... it’s boyfriend Syd again asking if Helen has come home. Larry comes up with a plan: says she’s having dinner with some friends at the Paradise Club and will meet him there at 8:30. But he should park in the back of the lot so that her friends don’t see him. Syd says he’ll be there. Larry checks his watch: 8:00. The ticking clock has begun. He lights a cigarette, gets ashes on the livingroom rug... and figures out a plan. He pours some ink on the rug, wraps Doris’ corpse in the rug, then calls a cleaner and says he’s spilled ink on his carpet, can he drop it off tonight? The cleaner is closed, but the guy says to ring the bell and he’ll open the door for him. Larry picks up the rug to carry it out to the car... and a shoe falls out. He stuffs the shoe back inside, plugs both ends of the rolled carpet with pillows, an carries it out to the car...

Where the Nosey Nextdoor Neighbor asks what he’s doing.

Larry tells her he spilled ink on the rug. She wonders why he’s taking it to the cleaners *now*, why not wait until morning? Larry explains that he doesn’t want the ink to set in. Then, in front of the NNN he has to put the rug in the trunk of the car. But it doesn’t bend like a rug, because it has a dead person inside. Suspense! He gets it in the trunk, closes it, gets in and... the car has trouble starting. He needs to getout of there *now*, the clock is ticking the Nosey Nextdoor Neighbor is watching. The car finally starts and Larry starts to drive away... when a police car cruises down the street! He *follows every possible law” as he backs out and drives off...

A winding mountain road with a sign for the Paradise Club announcing that it’s only 2 miles away. Larry turns the corner, clock ticking, he’s going to make it... then runs over something and gets a flat tire. Pulls the car to the shoulder and takes out the rug/corpse, slinging it over his shoulder. That’s when a car pulls up next to him. Two friends of Larry’s who want to help him. Change the tire? No spare. Drive you to a gas station to get a tire? He has to get this rug to the cleaners. Drive you to the cleaners, rug in the backseat? Um, no... it’s not that far, I can walk it. The rug is light. (He’s sweating like crazy, trying to make the rug look light). Will they discover the body? They say, “Your funeral” and get back in the car and zoom away.

Larry lugs the rug up the winding road, wondering if he’s going to get there in time.

On the road, a pick up truck pulls up next to him. The driver offers him a ride, he’s going past the Paradise Club. Larry puts the rug in back, climbs in. The driver asks him all kinds of questions about what he’s doing out at this hour with a rug. Larry tells his ink story and the driver says that’s bunk: he *stole* the rug. He’s hoping to sell it to someone at the Paradise Club, right? Right? Larry has no idea which way to answer... but the driver starts speeding up... faster and faster and faster. Larry says he wants out. The driver *throws him out*! Larry manages to yank the rug out of the back of the truck before hitting the shoulder with his shoulder and rolling down the side of the hill.

When he comes to, he’s messed up, but alive. His watch is broken. No idea what time it is. He climbs the hill, realizes he’s at the Paradise Club... and there’s Syd at the back of the parking lot in his car! Larry backtracks, finds the rug, puts it on his injured shoulder and carries it to the bushes behind Syd’s car.

Syd looks at his watch, impatient, then gets out of his car and goes into the Paradise Club looking for Doris. Meanwhile, Larry unrolls the rug, revealing Doris. How long will it take Syd to find out Doris isn’t in the club and come back to his car? Another ticking clock. Larry gets the corpse into the back seat of Syd’s convertible, makes sure her purse and identification and everything else that will make it look like she was out with Syd and he killed her, then slips back into the bushes *seconds* before Syd returns to his car, pissed off. For a moment, Larry is afraid Syd will look in the backseat and this whole thing will blow up while Larry is hiding a couple of feet away. But Syd pulls out a pint of booze, downs it, gets behind the wheel and drives off.

Larry rolls up the rug, goes to the Paradise Club and flags a cab, tells the driver he has to get this rug to the cleaners before the owner splits... puts the rug in the cab and they drive off...

Syd speeds down the winding road in his convertible, unaware that Doris’ corpse is in the backseat. He’s drunk and angry and speeding and...

When the cab drops Larry off at his house, he realizes that he’s done it. He’s saved his brother Jim from going to prison for murder! Now the Dead Doris Problem is Syd’s. Larry goes inside... and someone is inside, hiding in the shadows!

Jim. He tells Larry he couldn’t go through with it. He killed Doris and he wants to go to the police and confess. Larry says you can’t do that, Doris isn’t upstairs, she’s in the back seat of Syd’s car. How do you expect to explain that to the police? Jim still wants to confess, no matter what. Jim leaves the house, with Larry chasing behind him, trying to talk him out of confessing... when a police car stops in front of the house and two officers step out. “Are you James Weeks?” Jim says he is. The Police Officer is sorry to have to tell him that his wife was killed in a car accident along with another man. The Officer shows Jim some of the personal effects that Larry planted in the car. “Are these your wife‘s?” Jim says they are. The Officer says he can come down to make a formal identification in the morning, and they get in the police car to drive away.

Jim is completely off the hook.

But Jim walks down the sidewalk to the police car and gets into the back seat... and Larry follows him.

Review: I first saw this episode as a kid, and was blown away. It is *intense* edge of the seat suspense, and *relentless*. It never lets up. I had no idea who Cornell Woolrich was when I first saw the episode, and it was only later that I put two and two together and realized the same guy who wrote the short story that REAR WINDOW was based on wrote the short story that this episode and my other favorite from the series GUILLOTINE was based on. Around that time, Ballantine Books began republishing all of the Woolrich novels and short stories and I consumed them like a starving man. Woolrich was one of the three fathers of Noir and this episode fits right into the Noir genre: all about the darkness within and the descent of a good man into evil. This episode and an episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS called ONE MORE MILE TO GO were the inspirations for my DANGEROUS CURVES script, which is always a bridesmaid and I wish someone would just buy and make. The end of the short story this episode is based on, THE KID AND THE CORPSE (aka BOY WITH BODY) from 1935 is basically the end of Act One in DANGEROUS CURVES... and I wondered what happened if you got away with murder?

Before we look at the great stuff in this episode, let’s look at what almost sinks it. The short story has two titles (common for stories to get a new title with each new magazine publication back then to trick readers into thinking it was something they hadn’t already read), and KID and BOY are right there in those titles. Instead of Larry being the hunky younger brother of Jim in the story, he’s Jim’s shy son just out of high school... and not hunky at all. The idea of a *kid* doing all of this stuff to protect his *father* is a hundred times more involving than some studly mid 30 year old doing it to protect his middle aged brother. The age change also robs the story of it's Noir roots: a *boy* doing these things to protect his father is a descent into darkness, a grown man doing it makes the character seem bad from the start (which is a crime story but not Noir). Larry Pennel was just bad casting... and the muscle T didn't help... but this is the lead character, and somewhere someone thought they should get someone who looks like a movie star, and cast the muscular star of RIPCORD who would later play a parody of a hunky movie star named Dash Riprock on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES who keeps getting set up with Ellie Mae. Instead of worrying that this boy will never be able to pull this off, we get this strong and overly confident guy who we *know* will pull it off. Instead of the father/son bond, we get this brother thing which still kinda works... but the consequences of having your brother go to prison and having your *dad* go to prison are completely different. If dad goes to prison, you are homeless and your whole future changes for the worse. This casting screw up almost sinks the episode: the story is kid of father, son, daughter and wicked stepmother... the episode loses all of that. Maybe they were afraid to cast a kid for censorship issues? An adult hiding a body is bad enough, but a kid?

That censorship thing is no doubt the reason for the complete cop out ending. In the story, after the police tell them that Doris died in the car accident, the story is *over*. They’ve gotten away with murder! Time for celebration! But they probably couldn’t have that ending on TV in the early sixties. I just like to pretend the episode ends before Ed Platt goes out to the police car to confess... that’s a much happier ending.

Now for the great stuff: this episode is a textbook on suspense. There isn’t a scene or moment that doesn’t have suspense!

The moment when Helen wants to put her coat in the closet and Larry sees the tail of a coat sticking out between door and jam and we *know* that’s where Jim is hiding. Every chance for suspense is used... and this is a great lesson! When you have a scene in your thriller, look at all of the little ways you can milk it for suspense. The ways to turn the feeling of suspense into tangible things like that coat tail in the door. We know that Jim is hiding *somewhere* which is a vague suspense element. That can work, but it works *better* if we have a concrete suspense element like that coat tail sticking out of the closet. The great part of this is that as soon as the closet door is opened and Jim is *not* there, Helen asks if Doris is home... switching the suspense to someone else, something worse, she can discover! Escalating the suspense!

An other cool thing is when Larry is taking everything out of the car trunk so that he can fit the body in there, and takes out the spare tire. At the time we think nothing of it: he needs as much room as he can get. But that’s really a great set up for the problem with the flat tire later. When he gets the flat, we remember that he has no spare and realize he’s *really* screwed! The audience is always trying to jump ahead, and part of our job is to *hide* those set ups and plants so that they can’t figure out what happens next. Even if you do worry about him taking out the spare tire, there’s enough suspense afterwards (with the nosey neighbor, the car not starting, the cop car) to make it slip your mind until he gets the flat tire.

The episode uses a great “clock” or “time lock” with the meeting set at 8:30 at the Paradise Club. Woolrich frequently used this suspense device, in one of my favorite novels PHANTOM LADY the chapters are all titled with the number of days it is before the protagonist is put to death for murdering his wife... and it counts down chapter by chapter until they send him to the electric chair! Here we know Larry has a half hour to get Doris’ corpse to the Paradise Club, plenty of time! But then things go wrong. Things like the sign telling us the club is 2 miles away when he gets the flat help escalate the tension with that ticking clock. The broken watch is a great tool as well.

We also get to see Larry *think*. When he gets cigarette ashes on the rug, then looks down at the rug... we know he’s thinking that taking the rug to the cleaners is a great way to get the body out of the house, and create an alibi for himself.

One of great things in thrillers is that characters often have to do things completely against their nature and against logic, which often enters into the absurd. Here we have Larry broken down on the side of the road with this damned heavy carpet to carry to the Paradise Club and the clock ticking... and his *friends* offer him a ride. He’d have to be crazy to say no, right? But there’s a dead body in that rug, so he must fight against people offering to *help him*! It makes no sense. It’s a great scene, because he must say and do absurd thing to get rid of them. The rug is light as a feather... but he’s sweating like crazy!

One of the things I note in my Thriller class is how *the world* seems to turn against protagonists in thriller stories, and here Larry finally gets a ride with the pick up truck driver... only to have that driver accuse him of being a thief and then try to steal the rug! Larry is being accused of one crime, and can’t very well explain his innocence without exposing that he’s guilty of a far worse crime! So he just takes the driver’s abuse.

There’s also a great lesson in set ups and pay offs with Syd, Doris’ boyfriend. He’s been waiting in some bar for her all night, and when he heads to the Paradise Club he’s been drinking in his car waiting for her... and getting more angry every minute. This is completely logical behavior for this character. When he comes out of the Paradise Club and thinks Doris has stood him up, speeding away in a rage is logical behavior. The winding road to the Paradise Club has already been established with Larry, so it’s not some crazy coincidence that Syd would drive off the road and crash. We never feel like that ending is contrived, because it’s been set up so well there’s almost no other possible ending. Which is why it’s a shame that the episode felt the need to have Jim confess after we get that great plot twist.

This episode was directed by Herschel Daughtery, who is probably most famous as a regular director on the show filming on the same lot, HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Though not on the same level as Hitch, he was a really good TV director who knew how to make suspense work on the small screen and worked on all of the great action and drama shows of the time. The script by Sanford does a great job of putting Woolrich’s relentless suspense on screen, and Daughtery makes sure those suspense situations and scenes make it to the screen. Next week we’ll look at one of Robert Bloch’s most famous stories, YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, and the sequel to that story he wrote as an episode of STAR TREK. Two for one!


Buy The DVD!


Mike Gaglio said...

In the words of the great Robert Culp: interesting - - -

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The Modern Prometheus said...

I love how breathtakingly tense this is just reading the synopsis!

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